Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007

Driver pleads guilty to killing Village woman and Marine

Laurel resident Eduardo Morales-Soriano was in the country illegally

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A driver who killed two Maryland residents in Columbia Thanksgiving night pleaded guilty in Howard County Circuit Court last week to two counts of negligent manslaughter.

State prosecutors are seeking an eight-year prison term for Eduardo Raul Morales-Soriano, a 26-year-old Mexican immigrant who was living in Laurel at the time of the crash, said Wayne Kirwan, spokesman for the Howard County State’s Attorney.

But Morales-Soriano ‘‘is likely to get eight years or possibly less,” said his lawyer Bradley Goldbloom.

‘‘Eight years is the cap... we’re going to ask for less,” he said Tuesday.

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 29, just more than a year after he slammed his Nissan Sentra into a Toyota Corolla. The car was driven by Montgomery Village resident Jennifer Bower, who was waiting at a stop light on Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, police have said.

Bower and her passenger, Marine Cpl. Brian Mathews of Columbia, died from their injuries after being taken to the Baltimore Shock Trauma Center.

Howard County police said Morales-Soriano had a blood alcohol level that was four times the legal limit. And within days, federal immigration agents determined that they had no record that he entered the country legally, immigration officials have said.

Bower and Mathews were on their second date when they were killed.

Mathews, 21, had served an eight-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Bower, 24, was pursuing a graduate degree in community counseling from Marymount University in Arlington. She was a graduate of Watkins Mill High School and Hood College.

Her family could not be reached for comment.

Morales-Soriano was originally charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, two counts of intoxicated manslaughter and one count of driving while intoxicated.

When illegal immigrants are convicted of crimes on a municipal or state level, they serve their sentence before being handed over to federal immigration authorities for deportation.

Goldbloom confirmed that immigration authorities interviewed Morales-Soriano in jail, and have placed a civil arrest order on him.

The crash drew widespread media coverage, which stoked advocates and politicians on both sides of the immigration debate and brought Maryland’s policy allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses into focus.

Maryland is one of the handful of states does not bar its residents from obtaining drivers licenses if they are in the country illegally.